Despite Size Concerns, Daequan Hardy Offers NFL Teams Impressive Athletic Traits & Special Teams Upside

Daequan Hardy is no stranger to being overlooked.

As a three-star recruit out of Pittsburgh, Hardy was ranked as the No. 133 corner in the country. Despite that, Hardy committed to Penn State as the third to last recruit of the 2019 class for the Nittany Lions. He joined a crowded corner room filled with talented names like Tariq Castro-Fields and Joey Porter Jr.

During his first two seasons in Happy Valley, Hardy appeared in 11 games but started in none of them. In his third year, he made a respectable jump, totaling 11 tackles, two interceptions, six pass break ups, and logged a career-high 314 snaps. Hardy played just 235 snaps during his junior year but still managed to contribute 11 tackles, three pass break ups, and an interception.

In late-bloomer fashion, Hardy finally broke out during his senior year, finishing with 18 tackles, five pass break ups, and two interceptions. Hardy also proved to be a valuable weapon on special teams as he led the nation with two punt return touchdowns and was the Big Ten’s best punt returner, averaging 14.6 yards per return. In fact, Hardy is the only player in Penn State history to return two punts for touchdowns in a single game and did so against UMass in 2023.

Using the momentum he built for himself with the career year, Hardy declared for the 2024 NFL Draft. He was invited to the NFL Combine and the Shrine Bowl where he began his journey to the NFL as a prospect.

Hardy stole the show at the combine, running a blazing 4.38 40-yard dash and practically jumped out of the stadium with a 42.5 inch vertical jump. This caught the eyes of scouts all over the league and heavily lifted his draft stock. Dane Brugler, lead NFL draft analyst for The Athletic, said Hardy has an “outstanding athletic profile with explosive speed.” In addition, Hardy is a “clean accelerator when transitioning in man coverage,” Brugler added.

While Hardy’s athletic traits are appealing, he leaves a lot to be desired in the size department for an NFL corner. While his nickel position doesn’t demand as much size as the outside would, Hardy measured in at just 5’9,” 179 pounds and possesses 30 inch arms. Because he’s undersized, Hardy will be limited to a slot-only role in the NFL and could face trouble against bigger, more athletic receivers than the ones he faced in college.

“For a player with his explosiveness, Hardy finds himself in trail position too often, especially given his tendency to lose phase in man coverage. Overall, Hardy has the linear burst and toughness required for slot work, but his lack of size and strength will be tough to mask in coverage and run support versus NFL athletes,” Brugler said.

Although, with the reworked kick off rules being implemented into the NFL this upcoming season, the role of kick returner has skyrocketed in value. While Hardy only returned punts in college, scouts could see potential in him as a kickoff returner thanks to his special athletic traits and pull the trigger on him in late day three of the draft.

While it’s possible that Hardy’s explosive athletic traits and special teams upside could convince teams to turn his card in on draft day, there’s also a real chance that Hardy falls out of the draft and enters undrafted free agency.

Regardless of how it happens, teams with vacancies or a need for depth at the slot corner position like the Philadelphia Eagles, Jacksonville Jaguars, or New Orleans Saints could all add Hardy to their squad and deploy him in a special teams role while he learns the ropes of the NFL and competes for snaps in the slot.

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About the Author

Cadyn Gill

Cadyn is a freshman journalism major at Penn State. Hailing from the great state of Texas, he is a die hard Dallas sports fan. You'll often see him voicing his complaints about the Cowboys play calling on Twitter @cgill214.

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